The Humane Science “Class of ’22”


Continuing our longstanding investment in ending the exploitation of animals used in science, NAVS and the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021-2022 Graduate Fellowships for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science. These fellowships recognize and support outstanding graduate students who are working to promote the advancement of humane methodologies that can spare animal suffering. You can learn about the 2020-2021 recipients here.

Thanks to your generosity and commitment to advancing science without harming animals, fellowships have been awarded this year to fund four new graduate student projects and the renewal of three previously awarded projects.

The four new Graduate Fellowship recipients are:

Katharina Kroll, Harvard University

“Development of a Perfusable Vascularized 3D-Kidney Organoid on a Chip for Nephrotoxicity Testing”

The goal of this project is to engineer a more complex in vitro model of the human kidney. Animal models often poorly predict the safety and effectiveness of drugs and can miss when the kidney is affected as a side effect of drugs. There are also limitations with existing cell-based kidney models, as they lack a blood supply (vasculature), do not include immune cells, and are often made of kidney cells that haven’t matured beyond early embryonic stages.

Katharina plans to address these limitations in her cell-based model. She will be building a kidney organoid-on-a-chip platform that integrates a functional vasculature network. She will also test whether this system can support the flow of blood cells delivered through this network. Then she will expose the kidney organoids to specific toxins and measure the effect of those treatments on the overall integrity and function of the organoids.

Ishita Virmani, Johns Hopkins University/Masaryk University

“3D Human iPSC-derived Brain Organoids as a Model for Developmental Neurotoxicity Assessment of Man-Made Chemicals”

This proposed project uses a brain organoid model derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, rather than commonly used animal models, to evaluate the developmental neurotoxicity potential of flame retardant chemicals. Ishita will expose the brain organoids, during the early stages of their development, to different flame retardants and will analyze the effect of those treatments using a number of different tests. Included among those tests will be assays regarding cell death, neurite outgrowth (a process in which developing neurons generate new projections as they grow), cell migration, gliogenesis (the generation of glial cells—cells that provide supporting function to the nervous system) and synaptogenesis (the formation of synapses between neurons in the nervous system).

Nuria Vilarnau, Karolinska Institute

“Mechanistic Analyses of Human Hepatocyte Plasticity”

This proposal aims to investigate regeneration of the human liver in vitro using a 3D sphere culture system. Chronic liver disease is becoming a major public health challenge, and the main therapeutic option for individuals suffering from end-stage liver disease is liver transplantation. However, another potential therapeutic approach could involve boosting the natural regenerative potential of liver cells.

While the main model to study tissue regeneration has relied on rodents, the translational impact of animal models is limited due to species differences. Traditional two-dimensional cell models of the human liver have also been inadequate to study this condition.

Nuria will be using a 3D cell culture system that enables the study of molecular and cellular biology of human adult liver regeneration.  She will investigate the effects that small molecules and growth factors have on triggering human liver cells to grow and will perform a high-throughput gene expression study to better understand molecular mechanisms important for human liver cell growth.

Alan Kim, Johns Hopkins University

“Synaptogenesis Assay for Developmental Neurotoxicity Testing in a Human 3D Brain Model”

This proposal attempts to develop a quantitative in vitro model of synaptogenesis, the formation of synapses between neurons in the nervous system. Synapses are structures that allow neurons to communicate with one another through chemical or electrical signals. Synaptogenesis is believed to be disrupted in autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Rather than using animal models to study developmental neurotoxicity, Alan will engineer a human cell-based model to study this instead.  He will use human induced pluripotent stem cells and modify them so that pre- and post-synaptic markers are labeled with different fluorescent tags. He will use quantitative image analysis to identify synapses based on where these markers co-localize. He will then investigate whether chemicals can disrupt synaptogenesis during the development process of the brain organoid model.

The three Graduate Fellowship recipients whose projects were renewed are:

Prashant Hariharan, Wayne State University

“Engineering Human Choroid Plexus-on-a-Chip as a Non-Animal Model to Advance

the Understanding of How Hydrocephalus Alters Normal CSF Secretion”

Xingrui Mou, Duke University 

“Engineered In Vitro Model of the Human Kidney for Blood Filtration and Disease Modeling”

Sarah Stuart, University of Melbourne, Royal Melbourne Hospital

“Using Brain Tumor Organoids to Evaluate Efficacy of Novel Inhibitors”

Congratulations to this year’s Graduate Fellowship recipients—and thank you to all of the graduate students who submitted applications! Our ability to support outstanding graduate students dedicated to developing animal-free alternatives is limited only by our available funding. Please consider making a donation today to help NAVS and IFER continue funding smarter, human-relevant science that does not harm animals.